Marie Dollé publishes In Bed with Social, an emerging weekly newsletter that meanders amongst technology, trends, and culture. Marie goes deep on curation and surfacing great stories, owning words, and creating new ones to describe the ways that ideas shift over time.
Tell me about you, Marie. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
Originally of French descent, I was born in Houston and raised abroad: in the USA, India, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Cameroon. This is an unusual path for most people but it’s actually where I draw my strengths. I can fluently speak four languages, and because I moved from country to country every four years, I am very open-minded, considerate and flexible. All this international moving around has given me a high capacity to adapt to different situations and places, a priceless quality in today’s unpredictable era.
How did ‘In bed with social’ come about?
IBWS wasn’t because some crazy dream inspired me! Although I’ve been writing for French media for about 5 years, I’ve never had a personal blog. The COVID crisis got me thinking like crazy and empowered me to start new things. That’s when I decided to launch “In bed with Tech,” my French Substack. I didn’t have plans to launch an English version until people reached out to me on Twitter asking if they could translate it for me.
An American VC even tweeted that she used Google Translate to read my French posts. I was both stunned and delighted. Many French people read and follow English people, but the vice versa is not very common. And so, I launched the English version, “In Bed with Social”, to make it easy.
What else are you working on?
I have a full-time job in a public investment bank dealing with the business development, marketing and communications of an online platform that connects start-ups with potential investors. Moreover, I am teaching digital marketing in a private school in Paris and still write occasionally for French media. I know that sounds a lot, but I manage somehow!
This may be weird but I sleep very little, 4-5 hours max. I love reading and probably spend more than 3 hours reading articles every day and about 1-hour reading books in the evening before I go to sleep.
How many subscribers do you have right now? What have you done to grow the audience? What worked? What didn’t?
I got almost 1000 subscribers with a 60-70% opening rate—which is amazing! —in 5 weeks of running the French version. In the English version, I managed to gather around 300 subscribers in 2 weeks. This happened with me posting nothing apart from a couple of tweets, which is actually kinda funny because I am a pretty savvy digital marketer. Simply put, I know many different ways/tools of growing and building an audience: I managed to pull 200 000 views on a Youtube Channel for a niche sector in media monitoring.
But these two newsletters are my babies! I cherish them and want to get as many “organic” subscribers as possible. I don’t plan on running any paid campaigns: no sponsored ads, no native content, AdWords or big email campaigns. I am counting on WOM (word of mouth) and what I do best: write long-form on another media site and link—in a smart and constructive way—this content to my blogletter (I call my Substack a blogletter because it’s much more than a blog and yet personal like a letter). I am convinced that I only need to keep on posting well-analyzed quality content. I’ve had a couple of influential people tweeting about IBWS and that’s probably the best way to grow a quality list of subscribers.
I can get behind blogletter and agree that a new medium is emerging. What makes it more than a blog? What makes it more personal?
1st generation – Blog = Personal
Next Generation – Blog + newsletter = Blogletter, very personal.
If you look at the mechanism on Substack, the article is first sent to subscribers in their inbox before actually being published online. Blogs had it the other way around; first on the blog and eventually in your inbox… where you would click to access the blog. Now, you read in your inbox, often long-form with very personal content. That’s the thing with blogletters: they are an embodied media personalized in an unprecedented way and with the ability to spark conversations. For instance, Substack has the “thread post” that allows readers to ask questions of the author and take a conversational approach.
That’s why you can see emerging in media some original use cases that are also much more personal. Abacus from South China Morning Post sends a “chatletter,” which has a very interesting conversational and personal approach.
The Washington Post has a similar conversational approach with their newsletter, Drop me the link. And NYT recently released Notes from our homes to yours, presented as suggestions, lists, distractions, and quarantine diaries from their reporters, critics, and editors. (same principle as for blogletters: chatletters, noteletters…)
With the pandemic and probably new lockdowns and reinforced social distancing, people are more than ever craving authentic, no-filter, and personal relationships. And that’s precisely what blogletters are about: a direct connection to creators’ brains, hearts, and souls.
What’s your big goal for IBWS? How does it fit in with your other projects?
Personal growth. And owning words on the Internet. It’s a great career hack: if you are the first to consistently talk about a trend, then you end up showing up on any query related to that trend. An example is Li Jin with the trend of “Passion Economy”.
I always have so many ideas in my head and it’s like I need to write them down and finally move onto something else. The more active you are, be it writing, teaching or whatever other activity, the more opportunities you open up. I always thought I was pretty lucky, but as I age, I realize that accessing opportunities has nothing to do with luck. We create our own opportunities and, thus, our “luck”. My mom always said that “God helps those who help themselves,” and I can’t agree more.
Love the idea of owning words on the internet. What’s your passion economy?
You need to find a word and coin it. I gave you the example of Li Jin, with the Passion Economy, but there are many more, like Jay Baer with Youtility or Yu-Kai with his left brain / right brain gamification concept. If you look in detail, none of these words are exceptionally original, but they are meaningful and often contextual. That’s the secret sauce.
In France, there was this famous ad from the Lottery that said, “100% of winners took their chances.” In other words: all winners have this in common: that they tried. So I try!
As with SEO, I don’t aim for generic words but long-tail keywords, and I try to invent / coin words. The process is still early stage, but blogletter is one of them. Another one is the word brainfee: “from selfies to brainfees,” which is to say fewer selfies, less mediocre, self-centered content, and more intellect-based content that you end up monetizing. You free the brain, too. I plan on developing this in my next article, about how intellect networks are gaining momentum, and why I am excited about this. Recently, Anne-Laure Le Cunff shared a tweet on a Twitch session featuring Andy Matuschak writing and thinking out loud. She pointed out that this was her “new favourite genre on Twitch.” I couldn’t agree more: this is fascinating. Much more than looking at avocado toasts on Instagram…
I used to coin different words when I was in charge of the content strategy at Kantar Media. For example, BIF (branded influencer fatigue) shows up mainly in France where I wrote the initial social media trends report. At that time I didn’t think about it in terms of growth strategy but rather just being original. As you age, the great thing is that you seize much better the value of ideas and concepts, at least for me.
I’m obsessed with other peoples’ process – how do your newsletters come together? What’s your workflow? What tools do you use? Who else is involved?
For context: I have worked for ten years in a media research institute, in particular for media monitoring activity. Simply, Google has no secrets from me. I can find anything. There is a joke that says: “The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google.” Trust me, even if it’s on page 30 I will eventually find it 😉
Regarding my monitoring process/writing:
- I use Feedly to track media and when I wake up, I log in for around two hours. However, I have noticed that my media journey is shifting. I spend less time on Feedly and more time in my inbox reading newsletters. I tried several apps like Stopinboox, but finally decided to get back in my inbox full-time with a specific Newsletter folder labeled as BB1, BB2, BB3 etc. BB doesn’t stand for “baby,” rather for “Best of Best.” I use the same classification for my private twitter lists, which I read during my spare time.
- I am active on Hacker News and Reddit, following around 15 subreddits like r/Showerthoughts, r/obscuresubreddits, r/aww, r/obscurePDFS, r/interestingasfuck etc.
- Serendipity is very important. I often go to a book store and ask the librarian to sell me the book she liked the most. I don’t even read the cover; I just buy it. And that’s my way of opening up to new horizons. On Twitter I have different queries that help me find good stuff. For instance “@threader_app compile” surfaces all the threads people have saved, often these are really good threads. An other alternative, “via @readwiseio” will surface highlights people have shared from their kindle reading. Readwise is actually a great service to save highlights from Kindle, Instapaper and tweets. It then emails you a set of your highlights every day. Good spaced repetition is a powerful technique for improving your brain’s ability to recall something.
I also believe in the “Great minds think alike” principle. If I find someone interesting, I will dig into his/her timeline, lists, likes, who he/she follows and recently, I reach out on DM very often. I read somewhere that “You have two lives on Twitter and the second one begins when you realize that the real magic happens in Twitter DMs”. This is just SO true.
- Having a large knowledge base is very important: it serves as an anteroom for intellect and a space for expression, essentially functioning as my second brain. I’ve been doing “digital gardening” with Notion and storing my writing ideas on Roam Research. Roam research is the VIP tool I didn’t know I needed. Almost everything I type naturally links to other topics in my database. No more fear of the blank page! That’s how I constantly discover new opportunities to interlink information and write enough quality content without feeling overwhelmed.
- I also launched a Telegram account that’s linked to my newsletter and 106 people have joined so far. I interact with them through polls to let them choose the next post, ask for feedback regarding an article and share my best online content etc.
What are your thoughts about the newsletter ecosystem in 2020?
I wrote an in-depth piece on this subject. I mapped the newsletter ecosystem out and the area I find most fascinating is newsletter discovery and chat communities. There are several people working in this field with tools like “Discover”, “Newsletter Stack”, “Thanks for Subscribing” and Letterlist.
Letterlist is one of my favourites (I am not saying this because you are behind the service!) I like its editorial approach; bring all about those great minds behind the best newsletters. It’s la “crème de la crème” and with newsletters, that’s precisely what I am looking to do: reveal the very best.
What is it about email newsletters that makes them so enduring? And how do you see email publishing playing out over the next 3-5 years?
Discipline, rather than motivation. Consistency is key to top quality.
If I look at all my published articles, the newsletter mapping ecosystem and social audio apps ecosystem have worked the best. Both of them took me around 10 hours of work each (if I count the time digging to find all the apps, testing, thinking and writing the article). It’s actually probably more than that, but I am not surprised: these articles are distinct and no one has done an in-depth overview and analysis in these fields. That’s why these posts where so successful.
So to emphasize the point I have made about: be distinctive, consistent and never settle for “so-so” content. To help them thrive, I believe we will see more consolidation and new models emerge like specific incubators for newsletter editors in the upcoming years. They are the new icons, the next-gen entrepreneurs and true celebrities.
I also see diversification and unique monetization models. We have a relevant example here in social commerce: there is an emerging trend (from China) involving group buying and co-browsing features when you visit a website. If you are, let’s say, a savvy content creator passionate about books, you could monetize a digital co-browsing session in a bookstore by screening live recommendations. You could either be paid a lump sum or earn a commission depending on the number of books sold. This is just one of many ideas, and I have plenty of these. I guess I’ll just write them all down and see which one makes the most sense.
What’s your business model for your newsletter?
Although I don’t plan on monetizing the newsletter directly, I will use this newsletter to access other opportunities. For instance:
- I am thirsty for new knowledge, emerging trends and discovering new things before they unfold. That’s my motto: always being one step ahead. When you write, you are actively learning. I generously share all this knowledge for a simple reason: the more I share, the more agility I need to find new stuff and stay ahead. Sharing pushes me to learn faster so I can keep a competitive edge. And of course, the more you practice, the better you get at perceiving things and knowing whether the information in front of you is precious or worthless. Each time I run across something very smart—I call this an “insight rush”—it gives me a hot thrill and drives me forward.
- One of the best advantages of writing and gaining visibility is that it’s easier for me to reach out to people much smarter than me, people that I admire (People like you, Marc). This quote from Josh Wolfe sums up my state of mind well. In his words, I am “a voracious reader of others, vacuuming up all that I could find – especially from rare, off-the-beaten-path, or otherwise undiscovered sources. One common thing amongst the people I obsessively read about was that they had done the same.”
- Other opportunities driven by the exposure of the newsletter. These can include consulting, speaking opportunities, merchandising etc. I am kinda obsessed with figuring out options other than just subscriptions and I’ll write an in-depth post on this too!
What big idea would you love to work on if you had unlimited time and money?
Unbundling Reddit. I am a huge fan of Reddit. According to Wikipedia, there are 1.2 million subreddits, 138,000 of them being active as of July 2018. On his Substack Late checkout, Greg Isenberg mentioned that it was time to unbundle Reddit and he explained how to find an audience and build the right product. If I had unlimited time and money—sadly I don’t—I would unbundle all the opportunities that can be translated into business. I would then launch some and help other people launch these community-based businesses. Community building is the future for brands, why not start where there is a community instead of trying to grow one on top of a product?
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Published on Substack